Remembering The 1949 "Repeat" Cats
Official NCAA Publication, March Madness, Cinderellas,
Superstars, and Champions From the NCAA Final Four
Triumph Books 2004.

Hank Iba had a surprise for his Oklahoma A@M basketball players when they went to Seattle to play Kentucky for the 1949 NCAA championship . The Aggies would not use their thraditional sagging man-to-man defense, designed to take away the high-percentage shot .

Iba figured Adolph Rupp's Wildcats had too many long-range sharpshooters for the sagging defense to work. So Iba decided to take on Kentucky in a straight man to man.
He assigned J.L. parks to stick with three time all-american guard Ralph Beard , a deadly long shooter. Jack Shelton, a 6"6" forward, drew another Kentucky all-american 6"4" Wallace Wah Wah Jones, Vernon Yates ,a 6"4" forward, was to cover 6"2" Jim Line, a junior forward and the only wildcat starter who was not a senior. Joe Bradley would guard Cliff Barker, Kentucky's ball-handling wizard. Bob Harris , at 6"7" , the same height as Kentucky center Alex Groza , was given the toughest task of all : stopping Groza, the Wildcats' third all-american and arguably the best center in the country.

The defense was 80 percent effective; four of Kentucky's starters were shut down, Beard,Jones,and Barker each had one field goal. The other 20 percent of A@M's defense was fatally flawed . Harris, whom Iba had called " the best defensive center I've ever coached," couldn't handle Groza . The smooth, mobile center scored nine field goals and seven free throws for 25 points as Kentucky won , 46-36, before 12,500 spectators in the university of washington pavilion.

For the second straight year, Groza was named the NCAA tournaments most outstanding player.

Kentucky became only the second team to that time to win two NCAA championships . Ironically , Oklahoma A@M was the other, winning in 1946 and 1947 under Iba.
Yates, a senior in 1949 for A@M, remembered that final game vividly . He didn't doubt that the Wildcats had more talented players, but he wondered if the outcome might have been different , at least closer if the Aggies had played their standard defense.

"What really won the game for Kentucky was the fact that we didn't sink back and help out ," Yates said . "In my opinion , that was the key ,. I think we could have allowed a few more outside shots and sunk in there to help Bob Harris . That was the first time Mr.Iba had changed his defense that i know of . He never did cover strickly tight man to man. He always sank and help. " Fill the middle , fill the middle , that's all we were ever told . That night he decided to go strickly tight man to man . He thought Harris could cover Groza; that's what he thought."

Yates recalled how, out of force of habit , he lapsed into his old defensive style of sagging inside. A@M was leading, 3-0. "As sonn as the ball came to Jim Line, he took that little left-handed pop shot from the corner and hit it ," Yates recalled . Yates said he was pulled from the game "ong enough to get chewed out". Yates, later a high school teacher and successful coach in Ponca City, Oklahoma, said he and his teammates expected to defeat the Wildcats.

"We thought we could slow'em down, " he said. "That was our game , slowing people down and making them play our way ." A@M was able to stop kentucky's fast break , but Groza was so strong inside that the Wildcats' set offense was effective. "You might say we beat the Aggies at their own game," Kentucky assistant coach Harry Lancaster said the next day. "we played as near a possession type of game as we have ever played."

The genesis of Iba's defensive planning may have come four nights earlier in New York's Madison Square Garden , when Kentucky gave a marvelous performance in whipping Big Ten champion Illinois by 29 points , 76-47, for the NCAA eastern regional title and a trip to Seattle. Illinois had gotten by Yale, 71-67, in the first round.

Groza scored 27 points against illinois but Iba may have been more impressed by the 15 points of Line, the 9 apiece by Jones and Beard , and the 8 by Barker. Jones had spent a good part of the time on the bench.

Or, Iba could have been equally impressed by Kentucky's opening game of the Eastern playoffs , when Groza scored 30 and Barker 18 in a 85-72 victory over Vilaanova . The Wildcats balance was vital in that one because Paul Azrin had also scored 30 to get an even break in a duel in which he and Groza guarded each other.

Kentucky had as much balance as any college coach could want. Groza and Beard had been name to the Associated Press All-America first team. Those two plus Jones had been picked on the United Press International first five.

The Wildcats had an easier time getting to the final game than Oklahoma A@M . The Aggies barely escaped being upset by Wyoming in the opening game of the four-team Western Playoffs . Jack Shelton's with four seconds to play gave A@M the 40-39 triunph in Kansas City. Oregon State defeated Arkansas , 56-38, in the other Western game , then lost to A@M, 55-30.

No.1 - ranked Kentucky vs. No.2 Oklahoma A@M. A study in contrast.
Rupp was a firm believer in the fast break and a perfectionist set offense, based on slashing drives to the basket and taking the outside shot to open up the opposing defense. No one ever doubted that Rupp was serious about defense . What he didn't believe in was what Iba taught: slow down basketball.( officially referred to as "THE PLOW " by today's standards)

But the deliberate offense had worked wonders fpr Iba and A@M. He wanted to get the good percentage shot and test the patience of the opposing defenses. Rupp and Iba were without a question two of the best ever to coach the game.

Kentucky came to Seattle with a 31-2 record, having lost to ST. Louis , 42-40, in the Sugar Bowl final and to Loyola of Chicago, 67-56, in the Nit's first round. Oklahoma A@M was 23-4 with losses to ST. Joeseph's of Philadelphia, Depaul, Oklahoma,and Bradley. A@M had beaten Kentucky's Sugar Bowl conquerer , ST. Louis and had avenged all it's losses but the one to St. Joeseph's.

Kentucky was a six point favorite against A@M. Rupp's basic strategy was to go to his top gun, Groza, as much as possible. To that end , Wah Wah Jones was given the job of driving across the lane to draw attention away from Groza-then Jones was to pass off to Groza. It worked beautifully , a perfect plan considering Iba's decision not to sag into the middle. Five of Groza's field goals were layup's , the other four were hook shots.

Groza's most important layup was one he manufactured for himself . With the score tied 5-5, he intercepted a pass and scored to put Kentucky ahead for the first time. The Wildcats' never trailed after that. "We got behind, we had to pla a uphill game , which is not our type of play." Iba said after the game. Groza recalled that A@M "didn't have alot of speed . We had a lot of speed , and good outside shooting. With Wah's quickness and speed and ability, when he made his move , someone had to get him. It opened the inside up for me."

Harris fouled out four minutes into the second half ( whipped pup) with the Wildcat's leading,31-21. "I guess that's an answer to those guys who said Harris would stop him." Rupp said after Groza scored a tournament record 82 points in three games .

1948-49 Autographed Team Photo
Submitted by Price Huston

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